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On April 27, 2023, NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) Defense Industry Initiatives and the Defense Alliance of North Carolina (DANC) in partnership with Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce, Visit High Point and Heroes Center, hosted the Building a Collaborative Manufacturing Ecosystem In Support of the Department of Defense (DoD) event in High Point, North Carolina. 

Brian Norris, the Vice President of Strategic Initiative at  Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce, Melody Burnett, the President of Visit High Point and Patrick Davis Executive Director of the Heroes Center, welcomed attendees to  Congdon Yards. Tammy Everett, the Executive Director of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina (DANC), recognized distinguished guests and Phil Mintz, the Executive Director of NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES), provided opening remarks.

Michael Mullins, the Director of Defense Industry Initiatives at NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions, spoke about defense manufacturing opportunities in the state. Mullins explained the North Carolina Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program (DMCSP) grant and the product development, commercialization, workforce, and advanced manufacturing resources available to North Carolina manufacturers and entrepreneurs developing smart textiles and wearables that improve warfighter performance, health and outcomes for the Department of Defense.

NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) regional manager Kami Baggett described the business expansion, process, leadership and organizational resources available through IES, the extension and outreach team for the NC State University College of Engineering and the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP).

NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) assistant director of research development and evaluation Dominick Stephenson touched upon the importance of manufacturers using readily available resources like community colleges to assist their organization in achieving its defense contracting goals. 

Other informational briefings included a blueprint of North Carolina’s frontline of the future presented by Denny Lewis from the Economic Development Partnerships of North Carolina (EDPNC), an overview of the North Carolina Military Business Center (NCMBC) services by Rick Gilmore and a walkthrough of the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation (OSTI) One North Carolina Small Business Program by Chris Schmidt, North Carolina Department of Commerce.

The keynote speaker for the event, Cameron Cruse, co-founder of R. Riveter shared her inspiring story about how she went from making handbags in her garage to designing a complex assembly line of military spouses in different locations across our country. Cruse and her business partner appeared on Shark Tank in 2016. They accepted an offer from billionaire investor Mark Cuban, who already had a track record of working with and supporting military-affiliated companies and how resilience, belief and knowledge helped her achieve her dream. 

The Veterans Supporting Manufacturing panel presentation was moderated by Patrick Davis, highlighting services available to recruit transitioning service members. The panel touched on the availability of veterans as employees for the manufacturing industry, training to transition into the civilian workforce and how they’re working to combat stereotypes veterans face from employers. Panelists included Aaron Harper of Veterans Bridge Home, Lucas Waniewski of Recruit Military,  Lauren Houston from North Carolina National Guard and Craig Wymer from Hire Our Heroes at the US Chamber of Commerce

The Growing North Carolina Manufacturers Through Defense Contracting panel, moderated by Michael Mullins, provided advice for successful defense contracting from James Freeman from Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI) and Ashley Bullock from Burlington Industries. Bullock clarified that when looking for defense contacts, it is essential to remember that “you are on the government’s time,” which can fluctuate from year to year. 

Vendors networking

The event provided valuable resources, guidance and knowledge for North Carolina manufacturers looking to break into defense contracting and was inspiring for the team that put together the event. “Hosting the Building a Collaborative Manufacturing Ecosystem in Support of the DoD event was a critical first step in bringing the resources available through Defense Alliance of North Carolina and NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions to engage with the High Point area manufacturing community’s pursuit of potential DoD contracting and veteran workforce talent,” said event planning committee member, Patrick Davis. “The natural synergy and energy in the room during the presentations and in the vendor space was a testament to the overall relevance, impact and mutual benefit received by all in attendance. Due to the event, we anticipate the next steps in bringing meaningful continued collaboration to our area,” stated Davis.